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  • Writer's pictureBen Slater

Why does my boss have such an impact on my mental health?

Two people can say the same thing.


Word for word.


So why does one person have such an impact on my mental health compared to another?



But let’s stop right there.


Are you considering the impact to be negative?

That’s not what “mental health” means.


Mental health is not poor mental health.

So in this context the impact could be disproportionately positive or negative.


All good?


Back to it then.



Bosses can disproportionately affect our mental health positively or negatively in four ways:


  • Do they accept everybody as they are?

  • Do they allow people space to learn by failing and asking questions?

  • Do they allow people to contribute without feeling threatened?

  • Do they allow people to challenge long-held professional beliefs?


Where the answer is “no”, we can feel:


  • excluded

  • limited

  • useless

  • confined


Where the answer is “yes”, we can feel:


  • included

  • emboldened

  • necessary

  • unleashed

This is the difference that psychological safety - or the lack of it - makes in your workplace.


So now the main question is:


Does your boss value psychological safety?


The 4 stages of psychological safety in the workplace, as outlined by researcher Timothy Clark, are:


  1. Inclusion Safety: The ability to belong to the group, feel safe being yourself, and be accepted for who you are.

  2. Learner Safety: The ability to learn and grow by asking questions, giving and receiving feedback, experimenting, and even making mistakes without fear of negative consequences.

  3. Contributor Safety: The ability to make a meaningful contribution by using your skills and abilities to have an impact.

  4. Challenger Safety: The ability to speak up and challenge the status quo when there are opportunities for improvement, without fear of punishment or humiliation.

These stages build upon each other, with the goal of creating an environment where risks and vulnerability are rewarded rather than punished.


The stakes are high on getting this right.


Low psychological safety can damage people, productivity and reputations.


High psychological safety and achieving "challenger safety" allows teams to unlock extraordinary performance by enabling divergent thinking, creative friction, and candid feedback.


Low psychological safety creates a few gatekeepers which in turn create bottlenecks.


High psychological safety creates an expansive culture which in turn creates growth mindsets.


Is your boss intent on developing gatekeepers or culture?



And what if you are the boss?


Or what if you work for yourself?


Let’s reframe the original 4 questions:


  • Do you accept everybody as they are?

  • Do you allow yourself space to learn by failing and asking questions?

  • Do you allow yourself to contribute without feeling threatened?

  • Do you allow yourself to challenge long-held professional beliefs?


4 bases on which to build psychological safety for yourself and perpetuate a growth mindset.


So there you have it.


Why your boss has such an impact on your mental health.


Even if the boss is you.


 

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